A consultant says some forestry companies in Newfoundland may be forced to shut down as workers flock to Labrador for lucrative jobs on the Muskrat Falls hydro project.
"If you don't have that solid core of harvesting capacity, the mills won't be supplied and there would be real risks that continued operations of the mills might be jeopardized this year," said Bob Dingwall.
Two-thirds of the loggers clearing trees where the Muskrat Falls reservoir will be built came from Newfoundland.
Few skilled forestry workers are left in the logging industry, since the closure of paper mills in Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor, and they cut less than half the yearly available timber in Newfoundland.
Until the Muskrat Falls project began hiring, most of them worked for small logging companies or sawmills.
Competition for workers
However, Gilbert Bennett, who's in charge of the Lower Churchill project for Nalcor, said skilled tradespeople are in demand.
"It's a challenge for all of us in the industry, I think, with the activity out west, with the megaprojects we have on the island, as well as Lower Churchill, we all have competition for resources and I guess that's across all the trades," said Bennett.
Bennett added that Nalcor would like more loggers to be trained.
Dingwall, however, said it's too late to train new loggers. He said another worry is that while Muskrat Falls jobs pay well, they are short term, and after those jobs finish there may not be work available in Newfoundland.
"For the northeast coast and the west coast of Newfoundland forestry really, literally and figuratively, keeps the smoke coming out of the chimneys," said Dingwall. "It's that year-round activity that keeps rural Newfoundland alive."
Dingwall said he has contacted the provincial government to suggest some short-term solutions.